Luxury TodayMatt Dougherty and Stacy Shoemaker Rauen • April 24, 2018
“Luxury has shifted dramatically in the past five years. The thought and concept of luxury has changed as a new generation of consumers enter into the space. Guests are seeking an approachable experience coupled with the traditional, high-quality service,” says Gary Dollens, global head of design and product and brand development at Hyatt. Park Hyatt is now using F&B to ensure memorable experiences. Take its Masters of Food & Wine series, where guests can go on “a journey of rare and intimate experiences,” such as truffle hunting in Milan, shucking oysters in Carlsbad, California, or joining a tea workshop in Tokyo. Dollens says the brand has shifted its design approach to have a more residential feel, almost a “home away from home.” Think traditional techniques, classical proportions, and local, craft-forward influences mixed with “refined contemporary principles of edited simplicity, freshness, and cultured refinement” inspired by a hotel’s surroundings. For example, Park Hyatt New York’s indoor pool is designed with underwater speakers that play music from Carnegie Hall across the street. The immersive experiences will be topped off with Park Hyatt’s newly acquired Miraval Life in Balance spa brand, which is now open in the new St. Kitts property. “For more than 20 years, its wellness and mindfulness experiences have been designed for people seeking balance in their lives,” he says. Next up, the brand will open the 184-room Park Hyatt Los Angeles from Studio Munge, its first branded residences on the West Coast, which will be “a luxury oasis and retreat for travelers and residents who want a respite from the hustle and bustle of Downtown Los Angeles,” he says.
Newly minted chief creative officer Kemper Hyers, formerly of Starwood Capital Group, says travel is about “going home with a sense of fulfillment.” Indeed, Auberge evokes this very essence. “It’s about scale. We think of these hotels as having a first name. They are almost like people to us and have that kind of intimacy and focus. We really hear our guests because of that.” Adds CEO Craig Reid: “Our definition [of luxury] is something that has a sense of place, that’s handcrafted. It has personality, soul, and it’s organic.” As the typical traveler continues to skew younger, Auberge is adjusting its offerings, especially in restaurants, where the brand is planning play spaces adjacent to dining areas so both parents and children can enjoy themselves. Throughout the diverse portfolio—from the recently opened oceanfront Chileno Bay in Los Cabos, Mexico (from Glazier Le Architects, Gulla Jónsdóttir Architecture & Design, and BAMO) to the brand’s upcoming first city property the Commodore Perry Estate in Austin by designer Ken Fulk and Clayton & Little Architects—the overarching key to Auberge’s success is its employees who are, above all else, truly sincere. “That’s what guests are looking for,” says Reid.
At Belmond, maintaining a status of luxury requires sticking to one of the brand’s long-held goals: “protecting the things that money cannot buy, including heritage, local culture, and skills that are passed down generation to generation,” explains senior vice president of brand and marketing Arnaud Champenois. “For me, luxury means timeless products set in unique locations within the world’s most inspiring travel destinations.” And while one can find elements of local design and craftsmanship in every Belmond property, according to Champenois, the brand’s target audience has an increasing desire “to revive the retro glamour of the golden age of travel.” Recently, that has meant taking hospitality mobile, as Belmond debuted South America’s first luxury sleeper train, the Belmond Andean Explorer, in Peru last year, designed by London firm Muza Lab. This year, new partnerships aim to continue the marriage of luxury and experiential travel. The First Light program, with Leica Sport Optics “is a celebration of the morning,” Champenois says, with nature walks at dawn at certain Belmond properties, including the Iguassu Falls location in Brazil and Belmond Mount Nelson in Cape Town, South Africa. For a more intimate experience, the brand also offers French river cruises for groups of four to 12 people. Their luxury fleet of barges boasts elegant, spacious cabins, handcrafted furnishings, and curated details such as antiques and artwork. “The trend toward experiential travel has been growing for some time, but there is an exciting shift, especially among Millennial travelers, toward even more immersive and authentic travel experiences,” he says. On the boards is a new Tuscany location, as well as renovations to Cap Juluca in Anguilla and London’s Belmond Cadogan from local firm G.A Design.
“Luxury is one of the most overused words in hospitality marketing today,” says Arash Azarbarzin, president of SH Group, the management arm of Barry Sternlicht’s Starwood Capital Group, owner of 1 Hotels. For the lifestyle brand with a mission, it’s less about cost per room and more about “the actual luxurious experience itself. Travelers are looking for luxury to be intertwined into their stay, without being in-your-face or stuffy,” he adds. Azarbarzin only recently joined the company, coming from sbe and Proper Hospitality after being attracted by 1 Hotels’ combination of luxury, sustainability, and innovation. “The environment is not another talking point for 1 Hotels, it’s at the core of the guest experience and at the heart of the design from the outside in,” he adds. Think natural, raw, and locally sourced materials used in honest and new ways, as well as an abundance of plant life. The brand’s environmentally conscious attitude has led to an emphasis on being good to oneself, as seen through the Mind & Movement program, which ranges from yoga on the terrace of 1 Hotel South Beach in Miami to aura reading alongside the namesake park at 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge in New York. The brand also has partnered with Spartan Gym, Bamford Haybarn Spa, and celebrity chef Matthew Kenney—whose specialty lies in vegan dishes—“to emphasize our commitment to the guest from day to night,” Azarbarzin notes, adding that more are to come in Silicon Valley, California; Paris; Los Cabos, Mexico; Sanya, China; and West Hollywood, California (a conversion of the Jeremy).
St. Regis Hotels & Resorts
To hear Lisa Holladay, global brand leader for St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, tell it, luxury is anything guests want it to be. “It is less formal, entirely more personal, and is increasingly defined by a variety of tastes, inspirations, and references. Luxury properties today celebrate the distinct and the unique, and give guests the ability to connect with their passions,” she says. To set themselves apart, brands today not only have to offer one-of-a-kind experiences, but also highly personalized service. For some guests, that means having their bags packed through the brand’s signature butler service, while for others it “might come in the form of getting an impossible reservation at a new restaurant in Shanghai through our concierge,” she notes. A younger demographic of global influencers and tastemakers are seeking out St. Regis, too, encouraging the company to build “partnerships with like-minded brands that resonate with the next generation of style icons, athletes, and musicians.” For instance, the St. Regis Connoisseurs, or brand ambassadors, include polo player Nacho Figueras and fashion designer Jason Wu. To attract even more followers, the brand is expanding its global footprint, with openings last year in Astana, Kazakhstan, Dubai, and Changsha, China. Yeddalin are set for Cairo, Rome (a refurb of one of the brand’s iconic properties), Mexico, Hong Kong, and Amman, Jordan.